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When staff lawyers for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey tried to stop the release of some of its 9/11 records, they found out the hard way that a deal’s a deal. In order to settle a suit filed by The New York Times, the Port Authority agreed in July to release transcripts of radio traffic from the last moments of the World Trade Center. New Jersey state judge Sybil Moses dismissed the case after the paper and the agency reached their settlement. But senior executives at the Port Authority, after listening to the tapes, decided that they were too upsetting to be publicized. General counsel Jeffrey Green subsequently instructed his deputy, Christopher Hartwyk, to tell the Times and Judge Moses that the deal was off. When the Times dragged the agency back into court in August, Judge Moses made it clear that she wasn’t happy. “What you’re arguing is that Mr. Green didn’t know the law,” she told Hartwyk. “This is the chief counsel of the Port Authority � is that what you’re arguing?” Hartwyk, visibly shaken by the judge’s fury, struggled to make his point, which was that the agreement was to dismiss the case, not hand over the transcripts. Judge Moses saw that as hairsplitting: “It’s very disingenuous, Mr. Hartwyk.” The judge repeatedly referred to the settlement and the dismissal as “uncontroverted.” A memo from the agency to the newspaper notes that “in order to resolve the dispute . . . the Port Authority would commit to the following actions,” and then lists the records to be released. Hartwyk urged Judge Moses to focus on the distress survivors would experience when they saw the transcripts reported in the media. “Maybe we made a mistake,” he said. He was referring to the Port Authority’s failure to have taken stock of the tapes’ contents. But as far as the judge was concerned, he might as well have been referring to the agency’s legal strategy.

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